On Thursday, February 20, 2020, Portugal’s parliament approved five bills on euthanasia at the first reading. Submitted by several socialist parties, they were adopted at the first reading and will likely be combined into a single text before the final vote.
These five texts, with variants, were tabled by the Socialists, the Left Bloc (far left), the “PAN” animal party, the “Greens” and the “Liberal Initiative” parties.
In a similar debate in May 2018, the attempt to push through euthanasia was rejected. An opinion poll published just a few days prior to the vote showed that only 7% of the Portuguese population was in favor of euthanasia while 89% of those questioned prefered palliative care and assistance in the event of serious illness.
After the October 2019 legislative elections where the abstention rate reached record highs (51.43%) the socialist party gained a stronghold, and thus put this issue back on the parliamentary agenda.
Citizen groups demonstrated outside the parliament building to voice their opposition to pushing through this measure. Indeed, it is the first legislative act by this new parliament, although none of the parties supporting these bills mentioned euthanasia in their programs during the October general election. This could have had an impact on the election results since the opposition to euthanasia is so prevalent in Portugal.
This debate appears at a time when the Portuguese health system is deteriorated and while palliative care is still underdeveloped in this country. Several organizations are opposed to this law and are pleading to have better end-of-life support and a genuine policy for the development of palliative care. The Portuguese National Council for Ethics in the Life Sciences is opposed to legalizing euthanasia. The professional orders of doctors, nurses, as well as psychologists and lawyers are also opposed. Recently, the largest private hospitals, as well as the “Misericordies” – the largest network of continuing care which provides community care for dependent persons – have declared that they will refuse the practice of euthanasia.